The African swine fever virus (ASFV) gene E165R, which is homologous to dUTPases, has been characterized. A multiple alignment of dUTPases showed the conservation in ASFV dUTPase of the motifs that define this protein family. A biochemical analysis of the purified recombinant enzyme showed that the virus dUTPase is a trimeric, highly specific enzyme that requires a divalent cation for activity. The enzyme is most probably complexed with Mg(2+), the preferred cation, and has an apparent K(m) for dUTP of 1 microM. Northern and Western blotting, as well as immunofluorescence analyses, indicated that the enzyme is expressed at early and late times of infection and is localized in the cytoplasm of the infected cells. On the other hand, an ASFV dUTPase-deletion mutant (vDeltaE165R) has been obtained. Growth kinetics showed that vDeltaE165R replicates as efficiently as parental virus in Vero cells but only to 10% or less of parental virus in swine macrophages. Our results suggest that the dUTPase activity is dispensable for virus replication in dividing cells but is required for productive infection in nondividing swine macrophages, the natural host cell for the virus. The viral dUTPase may play a role in lowering the dUTP concentration in natural infections to minimize misincorporation of deoxyuridine into the viral DNA and ensure the fidelity of genome replication.